Something as Small as Breakfast

There were real bagels for breakfast this morning.

Yesterday, my older son and I ventured off-island to run some errands. We are still living with stay-at-home orders, but grocers, hardware stores, and takeaway food shops are open with capacity restrictions. That meant my son had to stand out social distancing in the rain for a while, but the lines moved fairly quickly, and the precipitation was light.

Cheap coffee,
endless refills

Going out to breakfast is one of my favorite things. That might seem strange for someone who is not a morning person. But the act of getting up and getting out of the house with purpose, dressed and ready to start the day somewhere other than an office is really gratifying and definitely improves my attitude about the day. One of my favorite breakfast places re-opened for the season a week or so ago, but like everywhere else, it’s just takeaway for now. It’s not the same. I miss sitting at a table with a view of the marsh (and an occasional osprey) with my hands curled comfortably around a diner-sized mug of coffee, listening to my family’s banter and scanning the room for people I know. I miss overhearing the conversations of others in the tight, warm spaces where people gather.

It is Day 42 of social isolation – or thereabouts. We’ve learned that the High School will not open back up for the remainder of the year. Both boys are doing their school work online, but they’d much rather just sleep and play video games. My husband works for a company that makes a component of COVID-19 testing kits, so they are getting slammed with demand. Even on his days off, he is working. Planning meals the four of us will eat has been the biggest challenge. I am tired of takeout pizza.

I am doing reasonably well, and although my energy levels continue to be a challenge, I find I have been getting more done lately. Most of it is small stuff; a finished essay, or some decluttering. I have been able to finish a couple of books in spite of the difficulty concentrating. I’ve been trying to clear off the desk my husband has commandeered for when he works at home on his supposed days off. I haven’t used it in at least six months, so it collected a lot of junk. The whole guest room space needs this treatment, but I just look at the piles of stuff left there by various people in this house and get overwhelmed.

I’m not sure what accounts for the small rise in productivity I’m seeing, but I welcome it. It could be the extra daylight, or the warmth (though it is still that damp kind of cold here a lot in the Spring). Maybe I’ve reached the “Acceptance” stage of grief. It’s hard to say. True to my nature, I’m still anxious about what comes after.

Apart from his mishandling of the pandemic crisis, the Trump regime’s destruction of out country continues apace. Assuming we even have an election in the Fall, there will be a massive rebuilding effort needed to address the economy and decades of unequal opportunity. Health permitting, I’d want to be a part of that in some way. I just don’t know what I can contribute at this point. I keep turning in over in my mind, hoping the answer will come to me and that it will be something I can have some success with. I am desperately in need of a win.

In the meantime, I am immersing myself in a completely different era. I started looking into some of the history of the town my grandparents grew up in. I’m focused on the 1920s right now because of a rumor that my grandfather did a little rum running during Prohibition. My mother vehemently denies this, but it would have been way before she was born. It may be nothing. We are Irish. Family lore and reality sometimes part ways.

It turns out that there was a substantial rum running operating in New Haven at the time. I’m looking into that, but I also stumbled upon the society pages of my grand parents’ hometown. They were not the families at the beach cottages chronicled in the archives; my grandfather worked on a farm before he went to Wall Street, and my grandmother’s father was a pastor of some kind. Still, I’m enjoying the trip back in time.

Clipping from the Branford Scrapbooks – New Haven Register 1920

I’ve been going through the Branford Scrapbooks, as the social pages were apparently called. The positive and chatty tone is comforting.

Hotchkiss Grove was one neighborhood of Branford. Here it is described decades before my grandparents moved back to the town from New Jersey some time in the mid 1960s.

My primary interest is in a hotel with a storied past. My mother worked there for a summer in the late 50s. It has since burned down and been replaced by private homes.

Life on the Island · Uncategorized · Writing Life

First Snow

I filled the feeders before the storm. When the snow stopped and the sun came out again, a pair of Cardinals, a reddish House Finch, and a large Red-bellied Woodpecker all came to visit, presumably breaking their fast. Occasionally, a squawking Blue Jay scatters the smaller birds, but when he takes a seed or two and flies away, the others return as if to say, “That’s just Jay, he’s obnoxious like that, just ignore him.”

These are the kind of winter mornings I can tolerate. The sun reflects off the newly fallen snow, making everything seem clean and bright. The sky will turn grey in an hour or so, but for now, I will sit here by the window with the light on my face, basking as if outside, on the patio, in the summer.

A nearby cove.
Photo by T. L. Tingley

From my seat, I can see tracks in the snow where birds have sought seeds dropped from above. I’m fascinated by the behavior of some birds who light on the feeder, pick and toss seeds from the opening until they find just the right one. They fly off and come back to do it all over again. There are other critters out there, too. We didn’t used to have small brown squirrels, but now they’re everywhere. The dog sniffs about in the snow, pausing every few steps to bay at some unfamiliar scent. I haven’t seen a coyote recently, but I know they are around.

In a few days, we will go and get our Christmas tree, and part of the living room, including the table where I’m sitting now, will get shifted temporarily to make room for festive decor. The tree will be placed in front of this window, blocking the sun and my view of the feeders.

I really should move my workspace back upstairs, but the light is not the same. The guest room that also serves as my office faces west, so the sun comes in toward the end of the day. I will take the full spectrum light up there; that might help. I’m pushing myself to start the day earlier (still not early by most people’s standards), and the full-spectrum light makes it easier on grey days. I am napping less, and cooking more. I still have my flat days – when I can only accomplish the bare minimum, but there seem to be fewer of them.

In a few weeks the days will start getting longer again. It will be imperceptible at first, but I love noting the time of the sunrise, even if I’m not up to see it. There are still long months to get through after the holidays. I will be looking for ways to make the most of the available light.

Fun with Food · Uncategorized

Less Meat Mondays?

I will never be a vegan. I mean, never mind meat, I don’t know if I could go through life without butter or cheese. I grew up in a very meat and potatoes oriented home. My dad frequently ordered prime rib at restaurants. We always had our spaghetti with meat sauce. Cheeseburgers were a staple of summers

But with all this concern about global warming that is finally seeming to get the news attention it deserves, one of the suggestions for adapting to the climate crisis is to eat less meat. Now that I can do.

I was raised Catholic. During Lent we weren’t supposed to eat meat on Fridays. That led to weekends beginning with homemade mac and cheese or tuna fish and macaroni salad. I’m lucky that I really do like salads, and vegetables, and fish.

I was thinking about this as I made dinner tonight. Now that I’m home, I am either making dinner or at least coming up with ideas for L to make when he gets home. Somedays are just for leftovers. It’s a bit easier now that both boys have their own schedules and I don’t always have to come up with things that all four of us will eat.

Tonight’s offering was risotto. I’ve been experimenting with different ways of preparing it. Our most common effort is with butternut squash and parmesan cheese. This time I used acorn squash, onion, garlic, white wine, and a single Italian sausage stripped of its casing and chopped up for flavor. It was pretty good!


We Need a Little Christmas?

Husband is kind of creeped out by toy soldiers / nutcrackers.

I had a little time between pick ups this afternoon, so I ducked in to a Home Goods near campus while I waited for T. This is always dangerous. In fact we have a brand new Home Goods much closer that opened last month and I’ve been avoiding it since I don’t want to spend more money right now.

Of course, they are all set up for Christmas. Yes, they had a few tables that still had Thanksgiving related merchandise, but most of rest of the halls were fully decked (seriously, you know how hard it is to get past another person’s cart in an aisle because that place is so stuff with stuff?). It made me think about how often recently I’ve seen people complaining about others decorating for Christmas already when we haven’t had Thanksgiving yet.

Yet, wandering around amid the festive tchotchkes, the trees painted with faux snow, and the holiday dishes and linens, I didn’t feel annoyed or rushed, I felt happy. Now, I’m not going to be one of those super-early decorators, but I am on their side. These are dark times, and for those of us who are uplifted by whatever the season means to them, bringing out the spirit early offers a little reprieve. There’s a feeling of nesting that goes along with that, and the revisiting of family traditions with ornaments that may have an origin story.

I didn’t buy much this afternoon. I really don’t have room for any more decorations. By the way, it always amazes me that the smallest houses seem to have the most lawn ornaments for any holiday – where do they put them when they are not on display? I bought a new tablecloth and napkins, a gesture of hope that we’ll be having more family dinners this winter. I sort of want to dig out the Christmas dishes, but I probably won’t.

Tell them, Lady Mary

Last year I was part of a discussion with some women about when the Christmas / holiday decorations come down. Several took everything down the day after Christmas, others waited until after the New Year or the 12th Day of Christmas (Epiphany). In my house the tree comes down the weekend after Epiphany, the lights outside will come down slowly through the winter. Several years ago a local wrote to the paper asking people in the area to leave their holiday lights out through February so that there would be light through the dark hours of winter. As someone for whom the first three months of the year feel interminable, I signed on right away.



One of the nicer things about the cooler weather is that it gets me in the mood to cook. There’s currently a chicken and barley soup simmering on the stove. It started with a roast chicken over the weekend, from which I also made chicken broth, pot pie, and this soup.

Very high tide in the marsh behind Long Beach.

There is a half-bushel bag of apples on the counter waiting to be made into apple pies and applesauce to go with the pork roast I am planning for next weekend.

I’m still trying to see as much of the sun as possible. The light is currently filtered through the yellows and reds of the autumn leaves; those still on the trees and those spilled on the ground. It gives the deceptive impression of warmth, but requires a sweater to enjoy. A passing deer blends into the landscape and can barely be seen save for the waving of his white tail. The dog, barking for blood, alerts us to her presence. The deer looks toward the noise, but remains unbothered.

It rained and stormed this week and the wind was quite serious. For all the downed limbs and local power outages, I’m surprised there aren’t fewer bare branches. We’re into November now and with so few evergreens in the yard, it will be quite bleak by the end of the month.

My days are divided between chauffeuring the boys to their various schools, jobs, and friends and trying to write. When I can, I travel via the beach roads on the southern side of the island where the marshes meet the pavement, and there’s a good chance to spot wildlife from the car. In the summer there are often stark, white egrets or an occasional heron fishing among the grasses. In the winters you are more likely to see hawks perched on bare limbs closer to the road. This area is a winter harbor for many birds. There have been snowy owl sightings; sadly, never by me.

Even in the tight grip of winter, the marsh is a place I love. More than the sandy beach or the rocky point, it reminds me of the hardy New Englander that I always imagined myself to be. In the warmer months, it sings with the constant song of frogs, insects, and the chippering of red winged blackbirds. Colder months bring forbidding wind and frozen pools among the waving brown grasses. There is a lonely romanticism to it, as if you might expect to see the figure of a man in a pea coat and bog boots tramping through with his collar turned up and a spaniel at his side. The word that comes to mind as I pass through is “sere.” I looked it up the other day and was surprised to find that it was not a color, but a state of wither. Maybe it’s not an accident that the old Aerosmith tune begins with the sound of the winds.

Placid ducks unfazed by the wind